6 Ways to Improve Your Study Habits That Are Backed by Science
Study in the same format that your test will be.
The research: In a study done by Morris & Coworkers, participants’ retrieval performance, which was a rhyming task, depended on whether or not their encoding task was that of processing for meaning or for rhyming. In other words, participants who had an encoding task that required processing for rhyming had a better retrieval performance than did participants who had an encoding task that required processing for meaning. This is known as transfer-appropriate processing.
How it applies to your studying: If you know your exam is going to be exclusively short answers, then study by answering short answers and not by completing practice multiple choice tests. If you know a set of terms will be tested in a matching format, then create a study guide that involves you having to match terms to definitions or examples.
Match the context.
The research: Godden and Baddely really worked hard to prove their point about encoding specificity. They had half of their participants study, or encode, underwater while diving and half study on land. Recall for all participants was underwater and those from the diving condition had a higher recall than those who studied in land.
How it applies to your studying: Study in the same room that your exam will be in. If your exam is in the same room as your class, it’s even more beneficial.
Match your internal state.
The research: Eich and Metcalfe measured the impact of state-dependent learning by having subjects listen to happy or sad music and think thoughts that matched the mood of the music. They rated their mood and once it reached “very pleasant” or “very unpleasant”, the encoding aspect of the study began and they studied lists of words. The participants returned two days later, followed the same procedure to put them in happy or sad moods, and were then given a memory test. Those whose mood at retrieval matched their mood at encoding had higher rates of recall.
How it applies to your studying: Try to match your moods when studying with your mood during your exam. This does not mean stress yourself out at all times, but if you’re relaxed and content when studying and during the exam, that is better than being sad while studying but content during the exam.
Relate the material to yourself.
The research: Rogers and coworkers presented participants with a question for 3 seconds and then a word who then had to answer if the word answered the question or not. Questions included “Printed in small case? Rhymes with happy? Means the same as happy? Describes you?” During recall tests, subjects remembered 25% more words that they had rated as describing themselves, as compared to only 5% recall for size, 8% for rhyme, and 14% for meaning. This is known as the self-reference effect.
How it applies to your studying: Try to find things in your material to remind them of you. For instance, I had an exam on the endocrine system recently and my dog has an endocrine disorder so I related the flow of hormones to my dog. By writing this article, I’m relating long term memory to myself in preparation for my Cognition exam.
Use visual images.
The research: Bower and Winzenz used paired-associate learning (a list of word pairs is presented) and later presented only the first word. Participants were tasked with recalling the word it was paired with. One group was instructed to silently repeat the pairs while the other group was told to make a mental image of the word pairs interacting. Subjects who created visual mental images remembered twice as many word pairs than those who silently repeated words.
How it applies to your studying: Assign different concepts to different things in the room. This works whether you are studying in the exam room or if you’re studying in your dorm. If I were doing this for my bio exam, I’d “hang up” the idea of the systemic and pulmonary circuits of the heart in my closet, put the idea of homeotherms and poikilotherms on my key hook, and microwave the concept of action potentials, etc.
The research: Muller and Pilzecker had two groups of participants; one group learned one list of words and immediately learned a second list while the other group learned one list of words, waited six minutes, and then learned the second list. When asked to recall the first list of words, the six minute delay group were able to recall 48% more than the immediate group. By having a delay, it allowed for the formation of a stable memory of the first list, otherwise known as consolidation.
How it applies to your studying: Study in chunks of time. Don’t stay up all night studying! Not only is it bad for your health, but it also disrupts the consolidation of memories. Instead, study for smaller amounts of time and take short breaks. Take a 15 minute walk, stretch, read a book, watch a Youtube video, etc. But don’t study all in one shot. A 48% increase in recall could do wonders for your grade!